Badly misunderstood in certain instances, having made heinous mistakes in others, Delonte West has run the gamut of experiences in his NBA career. He’s 30 now, married and a new father, and he’s looking to return to the NBA, hoping teams can overlook his past troubles and provide him with a sliver of an opportunity.
West, who last played for the Mavericks, said he will accept a nonguaranteed deal, just hoping to impress a coach and make a roster. He was waived by Dallas last October after a dispute with coach Rick Carlisle, then played briefly in the Development League.
West, who has had a pair of stints with the Celtics, said the time away has been rewarding and therapeutic.
“This, in a way, has been the biggest blessing of my life,” he said. “This has given me time to grow. I’m just looking for answers, and all of the things I have been searching for, as a man, not as an athlete, to complete me. In that time period I met my wife and have had a beautiful son, and it’s like everything is falling in place.
“Back in December or January, I stopped trying to trust in man and fight these battles by myself. I just handed the keys to the man upstairs and let him drive. It’s been the biggest blessing of my life. I have so much to be grateful for, thankful for, and I have a lot to play for now.”
West said fatherhood has changed him.
“I feel completed as a person and as a man, and all I need is an opportunity and I don’t think any team is going to regret it,” he said.
West has sometimes been his biggest enemy. He also has dealt with mental health issues the past few years. Teams love his work ethic and passion, but sometimes that passion has caused him to clash with coaches and teammates. During his second stint with the Celtics, he was involved in a fight with teammate Von Wafer. In other places, West has allowed his emotions to overflow, giving NBA executives the perception that he may be mentally unstable. That bothers West.
“Of course it’s tough to deal with because it affects your career and it affects your earning power,” he said. “I’m not a young man, but I still have a lot of basketball left in me at a high level. There’s plenty of time for me to earn that contract and earn the trust of a team that wants to invest in me more than one season. I’m up to that task.”
West’s arrest in 2009 on weapons charges in a bizarre episode stained his reputation, and he understands that perception may never change.
“Since the incident that happened [while with] Cleveland, it’s been an everyday battle, not with mental disorder, but an everyday battle with having to prove who you are as a person, to prove you’re a good person,” he said. “It’s OK, because if you are a good person, I don’t have to do too much but be myself. That’s all right.”
Reflection has been a consistent theme for West the past 12 months. He stopped tweeting and allowing outside interests to affect his passion for basketball.
“Over this last year, this whole social media hasn’t done any justice for any players, really in all walks of sports,” he said. “You have so many people who are waiting for you to say the wrong thing. You can say 100 things right and then say one thing wrong and the world is going to go crazy. So, I left that alone. I retired my rap career. That didn’t help, either.
“That doesn’t mean I’m crazy, man. I’m talented, but at the same time once you have a stigma hanging over you, you can be misinterpreted. But that’s all right, though.”
A couple of teams have shown interest in West, but none have gotten serious. Training camps don’t begin for another two months, so West has time.
“I know my game is going to speak for itself and who I am as a person,” said West, the Celtics’ first-round pick in 2004. “I just need to get somewhere. If it’s guaranteed, nonguaranteed, it doesn’t matter. Teams will know what I’m about and what I bring to the court. I am going to be guaranteed, anyway. Teams haven’t seen me in a year, but that’s only helped me, not hurt me.”
West, at 6 feet 4 inches, has built his weight back up to 200 pounds and is completely healthy after myriad injuries over the past few years.
“I am putting in the work every day, and whatever team picks me up, guaranteed or nonguaranteed, they’re going to get a top-tier player,” he said. “I spent time just licking my wounds, trying to shy away from the laughter [about me]. My game is not of league minimum, but that’s OK, though. It’s not about the money. I’m trying to break free from that stigma but it’s hanging over my head. I decided that I ain’t worried about the laughter. I’m not giving nobody no more ammunition to laugh at me. No more self-loathing. I’m here to play basketball and show people who Delonte West is.”
Robinson on his third team
Basically discarded by two teams in one year, Thomas Robinson, the fifth overall pick in 2012, is in Portland, for a third opportunity. The Kings sent Robinson to the Rockets after just 51 games, and the Rockets moved him to the Trail Blazers to create salary-cap space for Dwight Howard.
So, change has been a constant, and the dismissals have motivated him.
“I have to find a way to get back to my old self,” said Robinson, who averaged 4.8 points and 4.5 rebounds in just 15 minutes per game as a rookie. “That’s talking and messing with other people [on the other team] and being annoying the whole game. I went back and I watched old tapes and some of the stuff that I did, and I didn’t play with the same emotion. I’m just trying to get back to that. If I get back to that I feel that I’ll be pretty comfortable in this league.”
Robinson, a bruising forward expected to become a superior rebounder and defender, said he is trying to recover from the harsh reality that the NBA is a business.
“I’ve got a family to feed and I’ve got a long career ahead me, and that’s what motivates me,” he said. “If nobody wanted me then I would have been out [of the league] after the first team. If I go to 20 more teams, I’ll be fine. I’ve been through a lot this year. It can mess with your confidence as a player. I am just trying to get back to where I am.
“The NBA is all about opportunity. You wouldn’t be in this league if you couldn’t play. I’ve seen some of the best scorers sit on the bench. It’s all about taking advantage of your chances when you get them.”
Robinson has endured more adversity than most 22-year-olds, having lost his mother and both grandparents in a brief period while at Kansas. He is in the process of gaining custody of his younger sister, Jayla. So, being traded is hardly a major setback.
“I’m not going to play the victim card,” he said. “I’m a grown man. I didn’t come into the league with the right mind-set and that messed me up for a little bit. No fault on Sacramento or Houston. They did what they had to do. Houston did a great power move. If I was a GM, I would have done the same thing. I’m here in Portland now, so I am about to move on. I am trying to get my confidence back. If I’m playing against little kids, I am going to act like it’s Dwight I’m going against. I’m going to have my confidence back before October comes.”
FAR FROM GIDDY
Ex-Celtic is frustrated
He was the Celtics’ first-round pick in 2008, meaning he was projected to be part of the post-Big Three rebuilding plan. But J.R. Giddens hasn’t played in the NBA in three years, relegated to accepting overseas contracts after a short stint with the Knicks in 2010. Giddens played for the Heat’s entry in the Las Vegas Summer League, auditioning for teams seeking an athletic swingman.
But his time in Las Vegas was limited to 16 minutes in two games, hardly enough time to display his skills. And for Giddens, lack of opportunity has been a consistent theme in his career.
“I’d like to get back to the NBA, but at the same time you’ve got to get a chance to,” he said. “I feel like I had a good season in Italy and now I’m just trying to show people what I’ve got. Point blank, I’ve never gotten an opportunity to play. I don’t know any other words to say it. You go first round and not get a chance, it’s frustrating. I’m frustrated right now.
“You can’t show teams anything when you’re on the bench. You can’t show them nothing. You can just practice hard, and that’s what I do, just practice hard and play good seasons where I go.”
Giddens never found playing time with the Celtics, and was traded to the Knicks in the deal that brought Nate Robinson to Boston. Giddens has tried the Development League, and has played in Poland, Greece, and Italy, but has gotten no NBA opportunity in three years.
“I loved playing with the Celtics, I just wish I got a chance to show Boston what I have been doing my whole life very well,” he said. “Right now, I’m waiting by the phone. Basketball is a hard game to play. Not only do you have to be physically strong, you have to be mentally tough. I’ll never say quit, never say die. I’m still waiting on somebody to give me my spaceship so I have a chance to take off.”
Although the Heat’s summer league entry included several players who likely won’t be invited to training camps, Giddens remained a little-used reserve.
“You mean for the six minutes I’ve gotten in three games?” he responded when asked about Las Vegas. “I did pretty good. Still trying, like I said, to get on the court and show people what I’ve got. It’s tough, but when I get out there, I’m going to do the best in whatever time I get.”
Gordon has score to settle
Eric Gordon, when healthy, is one of the more exciting scorers in the NBA, but the issue has been staying healthy. Knee injuries have dogged him the past few years.
With three more years left on a four-year, $44 million deal, Gordon has to show that he’s worthy of his contract and must see the building plan through in New Orleans. His desire to remain with the Pelicans has been questioned.
“It’s good to see the team make some changes in a good, positive way, and for me, I look forward to getting this year started,” he said. “[The personnel moves] change things. I could see us playing a faster pace. It’s exciting because we’re all young and it’s all about getting our chemistry down now.”
Gordon welcomed the additions of Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday, who make the Pelicans more versatile in the backcourt, giving Monty Williams the ability to play a smaller lineup.
“It’s always good to have good, upcoming guys, that’s the point of us growing together and seeing what we can do for the future,” Gordon said. “It seems to be really good, it’s all about clicking early and having everybody healthy in training camp. I have known [Holiday and Evans] since high school, and it’s good to be able to get to know those guys again.”
Gordon hasn’t played more than 62 games since 2009-10. He is nearly at full strength, which will give the Pelicans a proven scorer.
“Health-wise, I’ve been doing pretty good, been taking it slow but moving around really well,” he said. “As long as I get to the 100 percent point before training camp, that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Gordon is determined to prove worthy of his deal and remain a rising star despite his scoring average decreasing each of the past two seasons.
“It’s not like I’ve been playing terrible, I just haven’t been fully effective to where I should be,” he said. “I look forward to that this year.”
The NBA Players Association, despite pending lawsuits from the ousted Billy Hunter, is close to choosing a firm to select its next executive director. That comes after news that LeBron James is considering running for president of the union. The NBPA wants to have an executive director in place by the All-Star Game . . . Just because the Pistons acquired Brandon Jennings in a sign-and-trade deal with the Bucks doesn’t mean they’ve lost interest in Rajon Rondo. In fact, they could eventually use Jennings as a trade chip and seek to acquire Rondo. There are going to be several interested parties in Rondo, and that number could increase when he shows he’s fully recovered from anterior cruciate ligament surgery . . . Because of some foot issues, Devin Harris had to agree to a minimum deal to return to his original team, the Mavericks. Harris has bounced around the past few years but could serve as a stabilizing force at point guard for the rebuilt Mavericks, who are trying to remain competitive despite an aging roster and being spurned by Dwight Howard . . . The 76ers are the only NBA team without a coach, and general manager Sam Hinkie is taking a meticulous approach to the search. Trail Blazers assistant David Vanterpool is apparently the leading candidate. The 76ers are in complete rebuilding mode after trading Holiday to the Pelicans for the rights to Everett native Nerlens Noel. Philadelphia was the big loser in the Andrew Bynum trade, prompting CEO Scott O’Neil to apologize to and ask patience from an already impatient fan base.
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.